Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district and tribal agency, the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies. Information on Taliban presence obtained from open source and derived by The Long War Journal based on the presence of Taliban shadow governments, levels of fighting, and reports from the region. Map created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal.
The Pakistani government has promised to restore its writ in the Taliban-controlled settled district of Swat in the insurgency-infested Northwest Frontier Province.
Swat, once renowned as Pakistan’s vacation paradise and described as the Switzerland of South Asia, is now referred to as the “valley of death” by the fearful Pakistanis still living there. The district has become the model Taliban police state. The Taliban have full control of the district and have implemented their austere version of sharia, or Islamic law.
The Taliban consolidated control in Swat over the past several months after nearly two years of fighting. Led by Mullah Fazlullah, the Taliban have defeated the Army, destroyed the police force, established a shadow government, and imposed sharia.
The government has lost complete control of the district, according to reports from the region. The government controls the main town of Mingora but has no presence outside. And inside Mingora, the Taliban have cowed the population.
Mingora’s central square, know as the Green Chowk, has been renamed the slaughter Chowk, as the Taliban routinely dumps bodies there and occasionally conducts public executions. In December, the Taliban deposited 27 bodies in the square and ordered the residents not to move them. Taliban snipers routinely fire in the town, forcing residents to remain indoors.
Despite the deployment of four brigades of regular Army and Frontier Corps troops in Swat, the Taliban have overwhelmed the government’s efforts to restore order. Security forces are confined to their camps and are routinely attacked by roadside bombs and suicide bombers when patroling. The Pakistani military, which is known to downplay its own casualties, said 142 soldiers and paramilitary troops have been killed since August of 2008, making the Swat insurgency far more dangerous than the conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Fazlullah, confident in his victory, offered “conditional amnesty for social and political workers and public representatives from target[ed] killings” if they promised to halt opposition rule. The offer was made on Fazlullah’s illegal radio station. Members of the provincial and national assemblies have been excluded from the amnesty.
The Swat Taliban have conducted a wave of targeted assassinations against police officers, tribal leaders, and politicians. Family members of government officials and tribal leaders have been killed, and their homes have been torched.
The police have been hit so hard that the force has been rendered ineffective. More than 800 policemen, almost half of the force, have deserted their posts or taken extended leaves to avoid the Taliban attacks.
Police and government officials live in fear of being targeted, and many have taken out public advertisements or carry letters to announce their resignations.
Those who have dared to resist the Taliban have been brutally murdered and made an example of to others. An influential tribal leader named Pir Samiullah was murdered last fall and his corpse was desecrated after he organized his tribe to fight against the Taliban.
The Taliban laid siege to Samiullah’s compound, killed or kidnapped the senior tribal leaders, and crushed the local opposition. Samiullah was among those killed. After he was buried, the Taliban returned, dug up his body and hanged it in public. Members of his tribe were not to touch Samiullah’s body, and they didn’t.
Samiullah’s tribe had been the showcase for Pakistan’s “awakening,” the indigenous tribal uprising against the Taliban modeled after Iraq’s Sunni resistance to al Qaeda and allied jihadi groups. Since Samiullah’s murder, the Swat tribes have not dared to resist the Taliban. Other such movements have faltered in the greater Northwest Frontier Province.
With the military victory virtually completed, the Taliban have imposed sharia on the people of Swat. Women have been banned from shopping in bazaars and are forced to completely cover themselves. Men have been ordered to grow beards or face punishment, while barbers have been ordered not to shave beards. Faith healers, music and video store owners, dancers, musicians, and others whose professions are deemed un-Islamic have shut down their businesses. Those who fail to obey sharia are beaten or murdered, often in public.
Children’s schools have been hit particularly hard. On Jan. 15, the Taliban ordered all girls schools closed, and threatened to destroy any that remained open. The schools have been closed. Yet the Taliban have destroyed eight schools, including boys’ schools, since the edict was issued. Over the past year, more than 200 schools have been destroyed.
The Taliban takeover of Swat has led to a mass exodus of residents. More than 300,000 of Swat’s estimated 1.5 million people have fled the district and more are expected to leave. The people of Swat fear the Taliban, and have lost faith in the government and the military. Residents claim the military will not fight the Taliban and often use indiscriminate force during fighting, resulting in civilian deaths.
Federal government promises to restore control
The Taliban takeover of Swat has proven to be a source of embarrassment for the Pakistani government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousef Gilani. While the Taliban have quietly taken control of nine of the 24 districts in the Northwest Frontier Province and six of seven of the tribal agencies, the fall of Swat has garnered international attention. In a briefing to Parliament last fall, a senior Pakistani general, unable to hide the dire situation, admitted Swat, Shangla, and “other districts” are under Taliban control.
This week, the government claimed it would restore its writ in Swat by the beginning of February. Interior Adviser Rehman Malik threatened to “launch a massive offensive” in Swat if the Taliban did not lay down its arms.
“Pakistan will not be allowed to become a Taliban state,” Malik said. “The situations in Swat will improve in two weeks.”
But the government and military have made similar promises since efforts to clear the Taliban in Swat and neighboring Shangla began in November 2007. After launching and offensive in November 2007, the military claimed it would clear the Taliban from Swat by mid-December 2007.
After a half year of brutal fighting, the government negotiated a peace accord with Fazlullah in May 2008. Fighting restarted in July 2008. The government said the operation would be completed by September of 2008, yet six months later Swat is in the hands of the Taliban.
• Swat’s burning questions – The News
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.